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Mr. Hain: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is clear that Labour stands for the security of this country and the Conservatives constantly put it at risk, not least by their behaviour in the House of Lords.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): As the first week when we return after Easter seems a bit thin legislativelyI cannot work out why; perhaps I am a little slow and something is happening that week about which I do not knowwould it be possible to squeeze in a debate on education so that we can discuss the problems that my constituents are experiencing? They want their youngsters to go to grammar schools but, if their children fail the exam, they are unlikely to get into the second choice on their list. Several parents fear that happening and therefore put the grammar schools as their second choice but still enter their children for the exam. When their children pass, they are told that they cannot go to the grammar school because they must stick to their first choice. Clearly, if the children fail the exam, they cannot go to their second choice and are told that they must travel many miles outside their area to finish their education. That is clearly an injustice and we must have a full debate on the matter.
Mr. Hain: There are two Second Readings in the week after Easter. That means that it is quite heavy legislatively and cannot be described as thin. Notwithstanding the important problem that the hon. Gentleman has outlined, his constituents will be more interested in his party's plans for £35 billion of cuts.
Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman says no, but I have just quoted the shadow Chancellor saying, on the record, that that is the case. Implementation of those cuts would put at risk the jobs of teachers and classroom assistants, and close schools in his constituency.
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart) (Lab): Four years ago, you gave me the opportunity, Mr. Speaker, of asking my first business question. I chose as a subject the possibility of banning all air weapons. Yesterday in Glasgow, the funeral took place of two-year-old Andrew Morton, the latest victim of an air rifle attack. Does the Leader of the House agree that the time for consultation and consideration has long passed? Will he give a commitment to introduce primary legislation to allow us finally to outlaw those lethal weapons?
Indeed. I commend my hon. Friend for the campaign that he led on air weapons and the danger that they pose to his constituents and those in the rest of the country. Air rifle attacks are reprehensible and must be curbed. I am sure that anything that can be done will be
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done by the police and the Home Office. The Home Secretary will want to pay special attention to the points that he has made and the campaign that he runs.
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the proliferation of nerve gas and chemical weapons? Does he know that yesterday, an event was held in the House to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the bombing of Halabja in Kurdistan? Appalling images were shown of the effect of nerve gas on women and children. Does he appreciate that some of us who voted against the war in Iraq welcome the elections that have taken place and the fact that the Iraqi Parliament has met, and do not indulge in pointless exercises to chase headlines in The Western Mail?
Mr. Hain: I very much agree with my hon. Friend, especially as that awful, horrific attack on the Kurds at Halabja was mounted by Saddam Husseinthe very person who would still be in power and able to mount similar attacks had he not been deposed. The hon. Member for East Carmarthen and Dinefwr (Adam Price) seems completely oblivious to that. He would presumably have been happy for Saddam to stay in power.
Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps inadvertently, the Leader of the House gave the impression that the Identity Cards Bill and the Drugs Bill had been properly debated in this place. In Committee, 10 groups of amendments to the Identity Cards Bill were missed, with a further six clauses not considered. Two groups of clauses were not considered on Report because of the strong guillotine. On the Drugs Bill, four groups were missed because of the knife in Committee, and a further four out of six were missed on Report. If a Ministerparticularly a senior Ministermakes an inadvertent mistake of this sort, Mr. Speaker, does not "Erskine May" require him to come to the House and say how sorry he is for making such a blunder? Would the Leader of the House care to do that now?
Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may recall that when an official without authorisation leaked the contents of the 1996 Budget, the then shadow Chancellornow the Chancellorsaid
Mr. Speaker: One of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues and a Conservative Front-Bench spokesman submitted an urgent question to me, which I refused. I do not tell the House why I refuse urgent questions, but the hon. Gentleman may well be aware that the next item of business allows such matters to be questioned, because it is Treasury business. There is nothing to stop anyone from raising the issueif it is done properly, of course.
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not incumbent on all right hon. and hon. Members not to refer incorrectly to statements made by other Members? I refer in this contextand I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, because it will go on the record in the Official Reportto the observations of the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) a few moments ago. He wronglyI am sure inadvertentlyreferred to comments about the Identity Cards Bill by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). The reality, howeveras the record should testifyis that my hon. Friend made no reference to the Identity Cards Bill. The controversial character of that Billwhich many of us want to be dumped in the dustbinwas highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay). Ought not the hon. Member for Leigh to correct the record?
I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that the Speaker would be very busy indeed if he had to put right all the inaccuracies that are uttered while he is in the Chair.
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I welcome the Secretary of State for Transport to the debate. My thoughts turned to him this morning as the District line ground to a halt. I thought, "We now have a parliamentary occasion when I can tell the Secretary of State how dreadful it still is." I am sure that he will want to comment.
I welcome the Secretary of State to the debate for another reason. I remember that, years ago, he and I used to debate tax and benefits when he was Secretary of State for Social Security. He may wonder whether the benefits system, the tax system and some of the other issues that we used to debate all those years ago are any different now. I can assure him that absolutely nothing has changed: everything that he used to say, and all the problems with which he was familiar, are still with us. I remember him saying back in 1999:
In October 1998 the Secretary of Statethe very Secretary of State who is sitting on the Front Bench todayproposed a "fundamental reform" of incapacity
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benefit. Since then the number of people on incapacity benefit has risen by a further 100,000. In October 1999, the Secretary of State said:
"Incapacity Benefit has strayed from its real role of helping people who have lost their income when they were forced to stop work by illness or disability. It is increasingly being claimed by people who have been unemployedsometimes for years.
Indeed, the Budget contains proposals to get people off incapacity benefit and into work. I must tell the Secretary of State, however, that since he made that statement in October 1999 the number of new incapacity benefit claimants coming from unemployment has risen from 46 per cent. in 199798 to 60 per cent. now. This is yet another problem that the Secretary of State will findsadlyis, if anything, worse than it was when he left the Department. We now have a scandalous 75 per cent. of young people coming straight from unemployment on to incapacity benefit.
But what do we have now? What have we had from the Department for Work and Pensions in the past few weeks? "The Principles for Reform: The National Pensions Debate". We have had more debating, more talking, more discussing, six principles, and still no action. The Secretary of State need not worry: everything that he was talking about then still applies today.
It is very good to see the Secretary of State here for this debate. Perhaps the real reason for his presence was revealed in a comment from a Labour strategist in The Times this morning. He is quoted as saying:
In the old days "both sides" meant both sides of industry, trade unions and managementfortunately those days of conflict are overor perhaps both sides in the House of Commons. But by "both sides" this Labour strategist meant both sides of the Labour party. That is why we have the Secretary of State here.
Of course, the central fissure or divide between the followers of the Chancellor and the followers of the Prime Minister is at the heart of the flaws that run through this Budget. This Budget is a kind of compromise between the Brownites and the Blairites. The Brownite bit is the eye-boggling detail of it all, and the Blairite bit is the emptiness when it comes to any sense of practical measures to make the world a better place. The Budget is Brownite in its detail, and Blairite in its vacuity. I suppose that that is why the Secretary of State can indeed speak for both sides.
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